New housing, commercial and infrastructure developments are set to be “nature positive” from November onwards, the government announced, with the plans backed by £16 million of funding for Local Planning Authorities and guidance to support the new approach.

Developers in England will be required to deliver 10% “Biodiversity Net Gain” when building new housing, industrial or commercial developments so there is a positive benefit for nature.

This means they will have to assess the type of habitat affected and its condition before submitting plans to the local planning authority detailing how they will deliver a 10% benefit for nature.

Biodiversity Net Gain is a key part of the government’s commitment to halt and reverse species decline by 2030 and was introduced into legislation through the world-leading Environment Act.

Developers will be required to demonstrate how they are replacing and improving biodiversity, with “biodiversity metric trading” rules requiring that any habitat affected within the boundary is replaced on a ‘like for like’ or ‘like for better’ principle.

Biodiversity improvements on-site will be encouraged, but in circumstances where they are not possible, developers will be able to pay for improvements on other sites elsewhere by purchasing “units” via a private, off-site market. A government-run statutory credit scheme is being set up which developers will be able to access as a last resort.

Environment Secretary Therese Coffey said: We will continue to support and work with developers and planning authorities ahead of the introduction of Biodiversity Net Gain. We want to help them ensure the developments of the future enhance biodiversity by creating thriving places for plants and wildlife, as outlined under our pioneering Environmental Improvement Plan.

How Biodiversity Net Gain is enforced and delivered has been subject to a consultation on regulations and implementation. In the response published today, the government confirmed:

  • £16 million funding will allow Local Planning Authorities with planning oversight to expand resource and upskill teams, including ecologists. This will increase their capacity to work with developers and communities to help secure a long-lasting legacy for nature.
  • A phased introduction for Biodiversity Net Gain, with small sites having until April 2024 to comply with the regulations. This extension will give Local Planning Authorities and smaller developers more time to prepare and apply best practice from activity on major development sites.
  • Details of a statutory credit scheme – a last resort option for Biodiversity Net Gain’ delivery, which will be set up to prevent delays in the planning system. In order to buy credits, developers will have to demonstrate they cannot deliver habitat onsite, or via the off-site market. The proceeds will be invested in habitat creation.
  • Draft legislation is due to be published later in 2023, with further stakeholder engagement taking place on implementation before Biodiversity Net Gain becomes mandatory in November.

The government has also published guidance for land managers who wish to sell to the Biodiversity Net Gain market. This provides information on combining environmental payments with Biodiversity Net Gain, including nutrient mitigation credits, grant payments or selling to other voluntary markets (e.g. carbon markets).

Further information from Defra can be read here.

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